“Chance is my great ally”
Daniel Riera, photographer
Camera in hand, Daniel Riera fires off a great many shots and not always with a strict control, but with this attitude he achieves fashion photos that can capture a time and outlast passing trends.
Photographer Daniel Riera shares his views on the fashion industry and his feelings behind the camera with www.barcelonaesmoda.com. We talk while he is working in Paris, where he is shooting a number of fashion editorials that will appear in different magazines in the autumn. However, he’ll only be in the French capital for a few days – July is packed with commitments that will take him to Berlin, Mallorca, London and Ámsterdam.
Born in Olot, a graduate of fine arts and film studies in Barcelona, Daniel Riera has photographed many leading lights in fashion, art, music and film, including Vicent Cassel, Michael Stipe, Alain-Fabien Delon, Paco Rabanne, Kellan Lutz and Rossy de Palma, among many others. The labels Pedro García, Loewe, Adidas, Gucci, Bergdorf Goodman, Canali, Camper, Tous and H.E. by Mango are also regular customers. He has just received the Felicidad Duce Fashion Award, a prize with which the Barcelona-based school wanted to underline his extraordinary career as a photographer.
The list of publications he works with on a regular basis is very long too, but it’s worth summarising it to highlight the international scope of his work. Fantastic Man, The Gentlewoman, Vogue, Vanity Fair, El País Semanal and Harper’s Magazine have published an instant he has captured on their pages and have been instrumental in seeing him travel around the world.
What lies behind a fashion photograph?
A photo might have to summarise something of the time when it is taken. In this way it belongs to a context, and different social and aesthetic readings can be taken from it. You can see the evolution of fashion in it, not just through the dress but also through the different notions of beauty. If we look at pictures of some of the musical icons of the 80s, or the 50s or the 90s, we can see a very interesting impression of those times. It is one thing to reference the style of a period and another to get it to fully belong to that period. Today, however, fashion is a melting pot of trends and references where it seems anything goes. There is no formula.
What makes you choose one particular photo over another?
That’s the great mystery. Something makes it the photo that I wanted to achieve. You detect it and you know.
Maybe because it has more presence, or something unexpected happened which makes that particular picture the most interesting one. I like being surprised when I look over the photos. I like there being something beyond what I already knew was there. That’s why I take so many photos and not always with a great deal of control. Chance is my great ally when it comes to working. It involves losing control and trusting that something better will emerge.
Did you plan to work in fashion photography when you started fine arts?
Yes, in fact I did. I was interested in the world of art and film but also the fashion image. More than the clothes themselves, which is something I discovered after snapping incredible pieces, publications like i-D, The Face and Vogue Italia created an entire visual discourse of their own in the late 80s and early 90s that I was highly interested in.
When did you start out on the road to fashion photography?
Firstly by doing portraits of friends, like the artist Carles Congost, and of singers. Then I did record covers and the odd magazine began to call. It was a very natural process. This was in the pre-Internet era, when things moved much more slowly. The network of independent publications that appeared at the time also helped me a great deal, and opened a door to the local scene – magazines like Disco 2000, aB, b-Guided, Vanidad and Neo2 in Madrid. That was when I started to publish on a regular basis, experimenting with very free fashion editorials.
What other special memories do you have of those early days?
The whole of the time I was working with the stylist Óscar Visitación, for example, or the photos I did with Spastor. They were very exciting times! Also because of Barcelona and the fact we were young…
Views on reality change over the years, no doubt a photographer’s do, too. What do you make of fashion today?
Initially I looked it at with more ingenuity. I only saw the most external layers. However, the approach I take to jobs hasn’t changed much; I still go into them the same.
In what way?
Without letting myself get too carried away by trends. I try to create images that feel true to me and which contain beauty and time. Sometimes this can be a fleeting glimpse at a person, or capturing a small moment, a gesture or a light.
With what goal?
To ensure there is fashion in the picture. It might be an outré piece of clothing or a classic dress, but there is also a notion of fashion as beauty in and of itself. I mean, a face can be “fashion”, an interior can be “fashion”, any image in a fashion environment can be “fashion”.
A photo and a camera form a whole. Which camera do you work best with?
From the analogue period I would stick with the Contax because it adapted really well to extreme light conditions. But it saddens me that many of the films I adored, such as the Agfa 50 or the 3200, aren’t made any more. Now you only have the most standard ones. I also feel very comfortable with the digital Canon; you could take it to war and it would keep on working. I use it more for outdoor shots and action situations.
They comprise a good deal of your work.
Yes, I really like being out on the street, on the outside of cities and interacting there. The street strikes me as a very honest place for a fashion editorial.
Movement suits clothes well. That’s how I can showcase their quality, through the way they fall and the details. I can do it the way I believe in and just let things happen.
But is the work expected of you in a photo session very delimited?
Sessions are usually highly structured. The idea is to deliver the outcome people have been talking about in many meetings, and everybody is clear about the aim.
So to what extent do you have creative freedom when you work for fashion companies?
Generally speaking, when they take you on for a job it’s because they like what you do and have confidence in your work. I like it when they say, “We want your pictures, so do what you do”. So I have to move the session into my court as much as I can, for my own good and for that of the label.
What does fashion teach a photographer? What has it taught you?
Flexibility, reconciliation, understanding different viewpoints, working diligently and keenly. It’s also taught me to enjoy the moment and make the most of it, especially when I travel and have the chance to enjoy wonderful places where I don’t feel like a tourist. People will often open the doors to a building that is closed to the public and that I have the privilege of entering! Plus I’ve been able to meet many creative and interesting people, starting with the fashion designers, but also the creative directors, too.
And what does the photographer bring to this work ecosystem?
I would say that photographers expand beauty in a way, understanding it in a broad sense and with a different meaning for each person.
Are the links between a photograph and fashion ephemeral?
For me that depends on many things, mainly time. At the current pace, I don’t know if I will find the mental peace to go any further with other projects. I have a great desire to go into a topic more and I hope to be able to find this balance. That would be the time to work without the need for a commission or immediately visibility. Or are you asking whether fashion is ephemeral?
It’s all very relative – there are some highly ephemeral works and others that can mean a lot more. It depends on the means, the models and the designers. The choice will depend on time, and perhaps aspects that are part of popular culture will become a reference for other generations.
You’ve been working in the fashion sector for many years. I’m sure you could give us some tips for younger photographers.
I would tell them that the real focus of this work is the job itself, not everything that surrounds it. Many people get caught up in the razzmatazz. Everybody has their own way of going about things and you have to make sure it’s the right one for you. It’s important to enjoy your work to the hilt and remember that this is a long-term career. A young photographer doesn’t have to want to do it all the first year.
Speaking about talents, in general there are more men than women in the world of fashion photography. Do you think there is a certain view that distinguishes men’s work from women’s?
First off I would say that this is changing and there are increasingly more women photographers. The most avant-garde figures right now are women. I recently took part in the book The Art of Fashion Photography, published by Prestel, and I was very happy to see a good balance between men and women. I thought it was a very good sign. With regards to the view, I’m sure there is! Gender is just another of the many filters we photographers apply, as is where you come from and even your sexual orientation. You could seek absolute neutrality but how boring would that be! We would all end up taking the same photo. Filters are the personality of each of us.